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Life to them is a game of cards,
The king of money, the joker of power. Part of the public's frustration is the image of a monolithic institution, with a large and arcane bureaucracy. The size and scope of this system has grown incomprehensible to the average citizen. The rising numbers of subcommittees, special committees, and individual committee jurisdictions give the impression of government leaders intent on padding their own narrow, careerist agenda.
A game of cards is indeed an apt metaphor for the kind of power shuffling and calculation that occurs within some 300 House and Senate committees and subcommittees. While the student's concerns expressed in the poem could be related to the whole of Congressional Reorganization and Reform, this centralization of power is roughly comparable to stacking a deck of cards in the minds of many American citizens.
One of my central reasons for running for this office was to change Congress, specifically to reduce committees, committee staff, and committee leaders' tenure. I feel that I share these concerns with many other Freshman Members of the House.
Last Tuesday, a solid majority of Republicans and Democrats (237 in all) voted for true reform and against government bureaucracy when they voted against reestablishment of the Select Committees. Many in this group are Freshman Members of Congress who are reflecting the interests and concerns of their constituents, the most vocal for true reform.
What the public does not want is business as usual, instead of the old stalls and dodges. We Freshmen Congressmen were sent here because we promised prompt action for real reform of House and Senate Committees. If we want to transform the way Washington works, then we must move quickly and unambiguously in reorganizing our basic framework.
Many of my more experienced colleagues in Washington have told me that the House has witnessed countless committees intended to reform the way Congress is run and nothing ever happens. That is a very troubling notion.
One example is the Rules Committee resolution against the proliferation of select of committees. In a report, the Committee commented on the spiralling costs of Congress, the exacerbation of space problems, the imposition of additional burdens on Members, and their overall effect on standing committees' effectiveness. While the evidence overwhelmingly points against this bureaucracy, that advice and every recommendation thereafter has gone largely unheeded.
With the calls for reform continuing to mount, we now have an
opportunity to make some sound changes to the organization of Congress. Our accountability to public pressure is too great to avoid any further these fundamental changes. I ask that you carefully consider and then recommend to the Congress the following needed changes:
Substantive reform cannot be addressed without mention of a Balanced Budget Amendment without loopholes. The imperative of deficit reduction is hollow without this measure.
o A line-item veto to enhance presidential authority is a necessary and perennial reform recommendation.
with regard to the Budget process, all mandatory spending programs should be placed on equal footing with annually appropriated discretionary programs. This would create greater budgetary control because spending would be reduced absent specific congressional action to provide funding.
o Congress should require periodic reauthorization for all mandatory spending. This would allow for any spending programs be reviewed and reestablished at specified times.
o I support efforts to require a rollcall vote on all tax and appropriations bills. Recorded votes would make Members more accountable to the U.S. taxpayer.
Non-germane amendments in either body, whether allowed by rule or suspension of rules. must be prohibited.
o Furthermore, constraints must be placed on restrictive special rules in the House. There is a rising proportion of special rules restricting amendments to a specified list, or affecting the order of their consideration. Restrictive special rules also too often prohibit instructions in the motion to recommit. The range of choice permitted on amendments considered is inadequate. Control of the agenda must be exercised fairly.
congress should adhere to the same laws, rules, and regulations it applies to the rest of the country.
o One of the most critical straightforward reforms is to reduce the number of committees. As committee numbers become more streamlined, committee staff should undergo proportional adiustments.
House rules should set strict rules on the size of committees. As a Reformer, I am concerned that some panels are too large, which results in too many assignments per member. Unwieldy panels tend to become fragmented, and policymaking tends to become more difficult. To streamline the way Congress is run and to avoid confusion, one option would be to categorize committees into being major and non-major committees. The size of each standing committee could be limited to 25 members.
Additionally, the creation of subcommittees should be limited. I would be in favor of limiting the number of subcommittees each committee could have. Subunits other than subcommittees should be prohibited. Currently, the Senate does not limit the number of subcommittees that each committee may create. And in the House, each standing committee with at least 20 members (except Budget) is required to have at least four subcommittees.
Another needed reform to streamline and reorder the committee system is to ensure that party ratios on panels are strictly patterned after ratios in the entire House.
O Committee staff_also should be allocated strictly by the same party ratios.
o with the proper balance and uniform numbers of Members on committees, it would be useful to give committee staff levels "statutory" status. Staffing levels could be set for each committee with the exception of Appropriations and the Budget Committee, which set their own limits. The ultimate goal would be to reduce the total number of staff and the aggregate level of funds for each committee. Number of staff should be directly related to its activity and workload.
One of the most critical of committee reforms would be to limit the tenure of committee and subcommittee leaders. The increased competition and turnover would result in more effective leadership, and would allow new Members to assert a greater role in committee policy.
We need to ban all proxy voting within committees. This would ensure that all votes taken were made by members present at the time of a vote.
The philosophy of consolidation and uniformity that these proposals address would have an immediate public impact. Because so many people believe the current organization of Congress is tainted, a conscientious effort to streamline committees and put limits on their expansion is long overdue.
Statement of The Honorable Paul McHale to the Joint
Thank you Mr. Chairman for inviting me to speak before this distinguished Joint Committee. My comments in the next few minutes will draw extensively from my thirty days experience in the U.S. House of Representatives and should be weighted accordingly.
Let me begin with a quote from David Broder:
"A pattern of self interest prevailing over collective responsibility is what's wrong with Congress. It is the end product of a political system that in almost every way has exalted individual self-aggrandizement over party and institutional responsibility."
We must act promptly to enact the mandate voiced by the people last November. Many of the new members of Congress were elected specifically because our constituents demanded reform, Congressional reform. The comprehensive agenda now under thoughtful consideration by this Committee provides a once in a generation opportunity to carefully restructure the Congress. Toward the accomplishment of that goal I would like to express the following thoughts.
First, a genuine sense of democratic responsibility, shared by those who govern as well as the governed, will entail Congress living under the same laws and statutes which were enacted to guide the lawful behavior of all American citizens. I am a cosponsor of H.R 349, the "Congressional Responsibility Act", introduced by Representatives Swett and Shays. This legislation will make
Congress accountable under the provisions of: the Americans With Disabilities Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Freedom of Information Act, to name a few.
Second, serious reform should also entail a comprehensive review of current standing committees, subcommittees, and their staffs. At a time when we are hastily, and I believe unjustly, eliminating the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, many standing Committees are continuing to operate with excessive staffs and unnecessary subcommittees.
Many opportunities and services available to members of Congress and their staffs have been abused. Foreign travel must be under much greater review and scrutiny. For some members it is simply too easy to travel to foreign countries at the taxpayer's expense. In addition, services provided to members of Congress should not provided at a reduced rate, but at fair market value.
Finally, I wish to lend my enthusiastic support to President Clinton's proposed ban on lobbying by former members for a period of five years. Today's corporate constituent should not be tomorrows employer.
I am deeply honored to serve as a member in the most distinguished legislative body yet conceived and shaped by the enduring democratic values of Western civilization. The Congress is a great institution reflecting the best of Constitutional democracy, but possessing the capacity for even greater achievement. An article in today's issue of Roll Call indicates that fully 59 percent of the American people disapprove of our collective performance in office.